When it comes to shopping for wine, Gabriela Davogustto knows a thing or two. After all, it’s a huge part of her job as the wine director at the New York restaurant, Clay, located in Harlem.
With tasty yet intricate dishes, like crispy-skinned duck confit and squid ink calamarata with Jonah crab, fermented Fresno chiles, and crispy garlic, gracing the menu — all of which are created by her husband and Clay’s executive chef Gustavo Lopez — Davogustto has to be strategic when considering the wines for the restaurant’s list. Not only do the wines need to be delicious, they have to complement the food. Even more than that, though, Davogustto has to choose wines from producers she respects.
“I try to get wines from people that work sustainably and care for the environment. Small produced wines because you can’t have mass production if it’s sustainable,” Davogustto says.
Wines for everybody
Having emigrated to New York City after a brief stint in Argentina, Venezuelan native Davogustto has worked in a number of restaurants, from hostess to server, including as an intern chef at the legendary Boqueria. She also studied at the Institute of Culinary Education and with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
When choosing her list, Davogustto keeps the price point in mind. If you want to be a neighborhood restaurant, she says, you have to offer great wines that are affordable for local residents. Davogustto adds that while the list has expensive wines on it, she tries to keep her price points between $80 and $220 a bottle.
“I would love to do it even lower than that, but keeping in mind the first part of this process and getting small produced, sustainable wines, there’s only so low you can go. And I think that’s something that customers are aware of,” she says, adding, “That’s how I map it out. The producer needs to be good. The wine needs to be a certain price point. And I need to have wine for everybody.”
She says that Clay is a very special place to work. “It used to be a jazz club, and I can’t tell you how many people stop by and say how they used to love coming to this place, and how many great memories they have in this building,” she says. “It’s cool to bring this vibe of good food and good wine to the neighborhood. You don’t have to go to Brooklyn or downtown to get it. That has always been the idea around this place.”
A love of Spain
It’s those same ideals around community and quality that impact Davogustto’s own personal shopping habits. When buying wine for herself, she often looks for small and sustainable producers from Spain and grapes from regions that aren’t often in the spotlight, like those grown in the Canary Islands.
“I drink a lot of wines from Spain and the Canary Islands,” she says.
The volcanic archipelago of the Canary Islands is an autonomous community of Spain, comprising seven islands, of which six produce wine. The islands are broken into two provinces, La Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Northwestern Africa.
Though its volcanic activity and windy conditions aren’t ideal for winemaking, the Canary Islands is home to some of the oldest vines in the world. The phylloxera epidemic that annihilated vineyards throughout Europe in the late 19th century never arrived, allowing the grapevines to continue to grow and thrive. Most of the grapes are indigenous to the region and are produced with very low intervention.
“They care that the wine is made in the vineyard first, and you can feel it in the glass — the wines just have a different energy,” Davogustto says.
3 Spanish wines to try:
Victoria Torres Pecis La Palma Tinto Negramoll 2018 ($26)
Formerly named Matías i Torres, this small production wine is made by Victoria Torres Pecis, who took over her father’s winery following his death in 2015. Torres Pecis grows grapes on roughly 11 acres of land in La Palma, Canary Islands, situated on the northern part of the archipelago. “I’ve been following Victoria’s wines for almost a decade now, and it has been amazing to watch how a very talented and passionate winemaker has become so precise and focused,” says Davogustto. The wine is 100% Negramoll, with the grapes coming from different plots that grow at various altitudes. The harvest from each plot is fermented separately too, with some grapes fermenting with the stems and some without. It’s all blended together before the wine spends 12 months in Sherry casks. “Negramoll is delicate and elegant, yet structured and complex. Sublime,” Davogustto says.
Note: this wine is currently sold out.
A blend of Mencía and Godello, this wine is “insanely aromatic,” says Davogustto. It’s produced in the Galicia region of Spain by Laura Lorenzo-DaTerra, a highly regarded winemaker who helped promote the wines of Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras — the towns where Lorenzo’s plots reside — at a time when the areas were relatively unknown. The grapes for this plum-hued wine were hand-harvested, partially destemmed, and fermented with wild yeast in steel tanks before it aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration, and with a small amount of sulfite.
Fresh, elegant, and structured, is how Davogustto describes this wine, which hails from the Priorat appellation. Produced by winemaking couple Ester Nin and Carles Ortiz, the wine is a blend of Garnacha and Carignan grapes that are hand-harvested, partially destemmed, and fermented with indigenous yeasts in steel tanks. The wine ages in amphora for seven months before bottling.